I put a very short story up on Medium. I’ve started putting a few things there to have a cleaner platform separate from the daily mishmash I’ve been doing over here. Sorry, I mean the daily meditations I’ve been doing here.
I’m going to put together a collection of essays, with a theme running through them of public spaces in the city, public transit in the city, and a sort of people-watching that often winds up having political and spiritual undercurrents.
This wasn’t part of that, though, it was just a little 600-word story that I found again and put up on Medium. It’s first-person, narrated by a child in Alaska. I’d say it’s about families. It’s also wildly autobiographical. It’s called Clean Sheets.
I’m little-by-little starting to cross-post and creep out of the Internet forest where I’ve been safely hiding for a few years. I’m taking classes, I’m sticking my neck out, I’m starting to pitch ideas again.
I’m turning 40 next year. Have I mentioned that? I’ve been acting like the first person to ever contemplate turning 40. I’ll probably just keep doing that.
About a year after U.S. politics ate my interest in comic books, I found myself sitting outside Vancouver Comic Arts Festival, studying a Ben Sears print. It had been the longest, shittiest winter in a hundred years and now I was in the sun, staring at a picture like a child.
I had decamped that morning from Seattle to Vancouver, which is both foreign to me and closer to my original home in Alaska. Trump had decamped to Saudi Arabia. Between the two, my constant IV drip of political news had dried up. My phone didn’t work that well in Canada, so I couldn’t even text anyone for a secondhand hit. The Asian stock markets wouldn’t re-open for another 24 hours. No information was coming in except the colorful details of the Ben Sears print in my hands.
Being in an unfamiliar place in new sandals gave me a feeling from childhood that I’d forgotten. There’s liking yourself, and there’s being all right with the world. As adults we try to do both those things and be reasonably happy. But sometimes when you’re a little kid you have this sensation of liking yourself in the world. Liking the places where you and the world touch.
So that’s where I was, with the sun warming my back and bright artwork in my eyes, when my boyfriend tapped my shoulder and said, “We have to go to this panel—not enough people are showing up!”
After reading Scarlet Witch #4, I can’t ignore your writing anymore. There’s no shame in needing to get better at writing. I need to get better at writing. My blog posts need editing, but I don’t get paid and I only have a few readers. You, on the other hand, have a lot of readers. As a writer for Marvel, you’ve achieved more writing success than I have. You’ve hustled to get where you are, you’ve put yourself out there, you’ve met your deadlines and you’ve completed your task. You’ve given it a shot. You’re a writer.
You’ll need to work harder if you’re going to keep up at Marvel, though. Matt Fraction, Willow Wilson and Tom King have been roaring down the tracks. They’re making it look easy. They’re telling stories so tight and seaworthy that Marvel can say “suck it, Image Comics intelligentsia.” Your writing on Scarlet Witch is like Marvel saying “Comic book readers are kind of idiots anyway.” Or maybe just “No one gives a shit about Scarlet Witch. Let’s really phone this one in.”
After reading Scarlet Witch #4, I put together a list of things to work on:
Words: how many and which ones.
Scarlet Witch #4 is loaded with words, but the ratio of words that mean something to total words is low. This clogs up the works and makes you look like an amateur. Here are some filler words and phrases that you lean on heavily: Although, though, certainly, if I’m truthful, oh, it does seem as if, most notably, it seems, it would seem, I confess, here is where, honestly, that is, I suppose, more accurately, I imagine, as I recall, actually, I’m sure, whereas, apparently. This kind of speech is common in the office world, especially when someone is a) insecure about their intelligence or b) trying to obfuscate their true meaning and avoid being held accountable. So you’ve got a case of business-ese. I think you thought it would add a nice razzle-dazzle of formality or authenticity but you are wrong. It reads as if you originally thought you would make Wanda’s speech biblical or Shakespearean, and then someone was like “Wait. Hold on. Wanda is Roma, and she’s a witch, and this is a comic book. So let’s make her sound like middle-manager in Toledo who is trying to sound more educated than he is while breaking the bad news to the team about health insurance benefit changes.”
Try limiting the amount of word balloon space you’ll allow yourself per page. Usually when a writer is forced to make something shorter, it winds up being better. Then we could see more of the art and the art could do more of the talking.
Working dialogue to death.
The wordiness I mentioned above seems to be your way of trying to make people talking sound like people talking. But it’s backfiring. Agatha trails along endlessly dumping exposition into her dialogue. It’s exhausting. Wanda over-reports Every Single Feeling she has. She and Agatha have known each other for a long time. Agatha can probably read non-verbal social cues. And so can the readers. Let the art do some of the storytelling. Let Wanda and Agatha’s relationship breathe. And if you’re using dialogue as glue to make your plot followable, maybe your plot isn’t very sturdy.
P.S. When your villain says “I love power” that is what they call “too on the nose.”
Overdoing an accent.
Just because someone is Irish doesn’t mean we want to be beaten about the head and neck with a brogue.
The second example also shows an annoying sexist trope without proper sense of irony. So powerful and yet so flawed and broken, yadda yadda yadda.
Tone-deaf tone shifts.
Wanda has JUST had a jarring, life-changing encounter with the ghost of her mother. She’s beside herself. Two seconds later she’s saying “You mean bitch” saucily to Agatha. Makes no sense. Maybe, after getting silly on sidecars, Hellcat says “You mean bitch” in a teasy way to She-Hulk. MAYBE. And even then, I could see it landing with a thud. This just shows that you’re not feeling your own story beats (and maybe that you don’t know how women talk to each other, girlfriend).
Notice how Agatha shifts right into dialogue as exposition again.
Neglect and mis-use of available themes.
This run of Scarlet Witch could mean a lot to a lot of people. Aging. Personal demons. Mother-daughter relations. Friendship. Sacrifice. The passage of time. Mortality. It’s so rich with potential themes that all you have to do is get out of the way.
And that’s the hardest thing—learning how to get out of the way. It takes imagination, restraint and skill. If you can learn to get out of the way of your artist, of your characters, of your themes, of your own writing, then you’ll finally be making it look easy. If you can’t learn to get out of the way of all that stuff, then you’ll have to get out of the way of someone who writes sharper and snappier than you do.
2014 flowed, and 2015 ebbed. Good riddance, 2015. I want 2016 to count, and so I’m gearing up and probably over-doing my plans. But I don’t care.
2014 was the year I got back into comics and started blogging about them for fun. I pretty quickly stumbled into a weekly writing gig with the Best Shots team at Newsarama. I got to work with David Pepose, who is a great editor. I got in the groove of deadlines. I learned a lot about reviewing. I learned a lot about comics. I got over my fear of stating a strong opinion, or looking stupid. It was sometimes stressful, but it was increasingly just fun and manageable. It had a rhythm that fit into the other rhythms of my life.
THEN WHAT HAPPENED IS, near the end of 2014, I attracted a little more notice. I got invited to write meatier, more featurey stuff at Paste’s new comics section, and I was also encouraged the be the main comics-opining lady for a new Seattle feminist magazine, STACKEDD.
Around March, of 2015, I officially flamed out of all my writing gigs. The increased pressure and the writing deadlines that were a month out for more complex pieces (as opposed to the tighter weekly schedule for simple reviews) did not mix well with what was a very busy, often-stressful year at my day job (which is sometimes more like a day career). I WASHED UP. I was so stressed. I knew it was mostly in my head and that I did not need to actually have that level of deadline anxiety and shyness about editors and writing dread. But I just did. So I stopped writing altogether and felt dumb and embarassed.
A few months ago, I came moseying back in the form of “I’ll just say whatever I feel like on my own blog that has 21 followers” and that has felt good. I remembered why I started writing about comics in the first place: Because they are fun, they are bite-sized, I love visual art, and every issue is a perfect little “story school” lesson unit.
My weakest point in my general writing life — be it technical writing or long-form non-fiction or short stories — has always been structure and the rise and fall of energy. I’ve been better at the fabric of the thing and not so good at making a dress out of it. In a way that says, “Hey don’t take yourself so seriously!” and also, “Have some eye candy!”, comics gave me a way to digest some basic concepts about story-telling. I’m at the point of my long, stumbly, half-assed writing life, where I do not mind being remedial AT ALL. Just give me the make-up work and put me in summer school.
So in 2016, I am not aspiring to go back to a wider readership or get back in with publications. But I do want to write about comics a lot. On my official list of three writing goals for 2016, I wrote “Write about comics with gleeful abandon.” But because I need structure too, I am giving myself a schedule to write about some of the books I’ve been buying but not reading– the ones that look really cool and I haven’t gotten around to. And I’ll write about them in pieces at a regular pace. Copra, by Michel Fiffe, starting back at #1. Brandon Graham’s Island, which I clued into late, and which I hope will persist (you had me at Farel Dalrymple). Matt Huynh’s webcomic The Boat. Locust Moon’s Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream, which is broken up into nice little units to chomp through systematically.
I’ll try to keep an eye on stuff as it comes out too, to the extent that I am having fun and not getting over-whelmed. To the extent that I can keep everything at the nice clip of essay-writing drills. I want to get better at writing something decent pretty quickly. Then hold that pace steady and try to ratchet up the quality through repeated practice.
My other two writing goals have to do with 1) a big ambitious book project that I shelved a few years ago and have always itched to return to, and 2) nerding out further and better on technical/business writing and editing (relates to day job as well as schemes for transitioning to the self-employed writing life).